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Top Investigator Coy About Indicting Constitutional Court Head


Armenia -- The head of the Special Investigation Service, Sasun Khachatrian, holds a press conference in Yerevan, September 11, 2018.

The head of Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS) declined to say on Wednesday whether it will bring criminal charges against Constitutional Court Chairman Hrayr Tovmasian recommended by another law-enforcement body.

“This is a legal dispute, a legal issue, and I will not talk about it now,” Sasun Khachatrian told reporters.

The Investigative Committee on Tuesday claimed to have collected sufficient evidence that Tovmasian abused his powers when he served justice minister from 2010-2013. The latter denied the allegations through his lawyers.

The committee stopped short of indicting him, saying that it has sent the case to the SIS for further investigation. Crimes allegedly committed by senior state officials are normally investigated by the SIS.

“We received the criminal case yesterday and are still examining it,” said Khachatrian. “I won’t make any comments on this case at the moment.”

The SIS already launched a separate inquiry into Tovmasian on October 17 two days after the Constitutional Court dismissed a parliamentary resolution demanding his ouster. Five days later, the law-enforcement body effectively declared illegal Tovmasian’s appointment as court chairman in March 2018, saying that it amounted to a “usurpation of power” by former state officials. One of them, former parliament speaker Ara Babloyan, was indicted on Monday.

Babloyan was not arrested, unlike Arsen Babayan, a former senior parliament staffer facing the same coup charges leveled last week. The SIS says that Babayan illegally backdated in March 2018 an official document to enable the former Armenian parliament to install Tovmasian as court chairman before the entry into force of sweeping constitutional amendments.

The amendments introduced a six-year term in office for the head of Armenia’s highest court. Tovmasian, 49, took up the post under previous constitutional provisions allowing him to run the court until the age of 70.

Both indicted men flatly deny the accusations of forgery and “usurpation of power.” Critics of the Armenian government say Babayan’s arrest is part of its efforts to force Tovmasian to resign.

Armenia -- Arsen Babayan, the deputy chief of the parliament staff, April 6, 2018.
Armenia -- Arsen Babayan, the deputy chief of the parliament staff, April 6, 2018.

Khachatrian dismissed suggestions that Babayan would not have been arrested had the Constitutional Court chairman bowed to the government pressure. “Hrayr Tovmasian’s resigning or not resigning does not matter for the criminal case,” said the SIS chief. “Again, the Special Investigative Service does not engage in politics.”

Senior parliamentarians from Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step alliance have also denied any political motives behind the criminal proceedings.

It emerged on Wednesday that a prominent Armenian human rights campaigner, Avetik Ishkhanian, and Nagorno-Karabakh’s human rights ombudsman, Artak Beglarian, have appealed for Babayan’s release from pre-trial custody. In a petition sent to relevant authorities, they said that they can guarantee the “proper conduct” of the former official if he is set free.

Ishkhanian has been very critical of the high-profile cases, saying that they are politically motivated.

One of Babayan’s lawyers, Yervand Varosian, insisted, meanwhile, that his client should not have been arrested and prosecuted in the first place. Varosian claimed that a judge in Yerevan failed to present any legal grounds when he sanctioned Babayan’s arrest on October 24.

Babayan was detained on October 21 and initially suspected of only forgery, a crime covered by a general amnesty declared by the Armenian parliament last year. His lawyers protested against what they see as an illegal detention before the SIS leveled the more serious coup charge against the former deputy chief of the parliament staff.

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